Submitted by Kevin Cavrell.
(Feb. 4, 2022) — When COVID-19 struck in March of 2020, I think it is fair to say that none of us expected it to ultimately have the massive effect on our everyday lives that it inevitably did. Over the course of two years, we have learned how to adapt and live with the changes that the pandemic has brought upon us. Everywhere we go, we see masks, sanitizer bottles, among many other precautionary measures that we as a society have now adopted as the new normal. One of the biggest challenges put forth by the pandemic has been how to successfully maintain and encourage in-person learning. RSD17 has been fortunate enough to be among one of few school systems across the state that has stayed open since September of 2020. As a student in the district with younger brothers spread across three different schools within RSD17, I have seen the effects that COVID has had on schooling firsthand. And while I might be the first person to tell you how the pandemic has affected in-person learning, that is not the focus of this segment. Instead, I would like to bring to light how COVID has changed not only sports, but the entire climate of extracurricular activities
To truly understand the impact that COVID has had on high school sports, I spoke with Haddam Killingworth High School track and field/cross country coach, Matt Diglio. When asked if he believes that COVID has affected the overall interest and engagement of younger students, Diglio said, “I believe that COVID (and online school) absolutely had an effect on athletic participation at the high school level… I have observed it not only in the sports I coach (track and cross country), but also know it has affected other sports teams at H-K as well as other sports and schools throughout the state. In cross country, our team went from around 60-70 (athletes) for the several years prior to COVID, to around 40-45 this past fall, as well as having zero sophomore boys on our team currently. In spring track, our team would start with over 100 combined boys and girls in the years before COVID, and this past spring I think we had around 75 or so.”
The pandemic and our sudden switch to learning remotely have undoubtedly taken both mental and physical tolls on the students of RSD 17. With unusually low sports signups, it is apparent that encouraging incoming students to participate in both sports and extracurricular activities should be a priority. Sports as well as other activities have always been an outlet for the vast majority of HKHS students, and with the sudden increase of technology in our lives, it is important to keep sports alive in the HK community.
HKHS is arguably best known for its success in track and cross country, and while the effects of COVID have already been highlighted by Coach Diglio, it is important to acknowledge that this is not just a track and cross country issue. As Diglio (who also works in the Guilford school system) mentioned, COVID has (similarly) affected other sports teams at HK, as well as other sports and teams throughout the state. I interviewed Tyler Wilcox, head coach of the HKHS football team. Wilcox spoke about the statewide and national impact that COVID has had on sports, highlighting the 2020-21 school year in particular. Regarding the issue, Wilcox says, “Some professional leagues were able to continue operating because of testing and various protocols while high school sports were shut down indefinitely causing thousands of student athletes to miss their respective seasons. This was particularly difficult for last year’s senior class. These athletes never had the opportunity to step on the field one last time.”
Clearly, the impact that COVID has had on sports affects people on many different levels. Sports are a big part of many, many people’s lives, and with the trying times brought along by the pandemic, we now see teams struggling to fill rosters, athletes with great potential losing interest in their respective sport, as well as the benefits of physical activity and team sports beginning to dwindle from our community. As a tightly-knit district with a strong history and high expectations regarding sports, it is important that we encourage the youth of our community to participate in sports and extracurricular, even if it is a 30 minute soccer practice once a week. The benefit of playing sports and other team-oriented activities is essential for the growth and development of our youth, and maybe they’ll even have a bit of fun along the way.
Track photo courtesy of Yvette and John Minervino. Football photo courtesy of Anthony Frasco.